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Thursday, 30 December, 1999, 16:03 GMT
Jools Holland: His biggest curtain call yet

Holland is an advocate of real music

If money were no object, who would you want to play in the new millennium at your New Year's Eve bash?

Into 2000
Jools Holland would probably top many wish lists, so it comes as no surprise that he is not only already booked for the night, but that he is playing the big one - the Millennium Dome.

The plan is that Holland will be taking to the ivories on Friday night at just about the time the Queen turns up to give the Dome her official sanction.

Given his characteristic informality, Holland would probably downplay the whole episode as just another gig on home ground - he is south London born and bred and lives and works in Greenwich.

Exceptional night

But his official designation as joint music director for the millennium eve celebrations at the Dome, alongside Paul Daniel, music director of the English National Opera, reveals that this is one exceptional night.

In fact it is the highest point so far in a career that has elevated Holland from bar-room boogy-woogie pianist to modern day musical arbiter.

In the pantheon of smart, wise-cracking presenters with across-the-board appeal, Holland, now 41, ranks alongside John Peel and Michael Palin. Dome bosses see him as an "unstarry star" who strikes just the right tone for proceedings.

Jools Holland
Julian Miles Holland
Born: 24 January 1958
Marital status: Married to sculptor Christabel McEwen
Children: Mabel (with Christabel), George and Rose (from previous relationship with Mary Leahy), Fred (Christabel's son)
No matter that he was a bit of a teenage tearaway, or was censured for swearing live on television, or that he litters his on-screen links with "uhms" and "errs". Most of all he is credible.

It is the sort of credibility that comes from being, as Billy Joel would have it, a Piano Man. In an age when most keyboards come with a plug attached, Holland's love for the old Joanna is a rare thing.

He is an arch curtain caller. At the close of each episode of his long-running BBC music showcase Later With Jools Holland, he settles behind the grand piano and jams with his guest musicians.

No need to ask what key it's in, Holland is a pro; an advocate of real music. He could probably dash of a few bars of Auld Lang Syne without even thinking.

Holland, right, in the early days of Squeeze
His laconic style and inquiring mind are a hit away from the piano stool. Holland has fronted Juke Box Jury and presented docu-travel TV shows such as Walking to New Orleans and Beat Routes.

When not in front of the studio cameras he is devoted to his own band, Jools Holland's Rhythm and Blues Orchestra.

Holland's path to the Millennium Dome goes back to the day his uncle David taught him how to hammer out St Louis Blues on his grandmother's pianola.

He was a natural pianist but not a model schoolboy and so when, aged 15, his headmaster asked him to leave, Holland seized the opportunity to play music for a living.

With friend Glen Tilbrook, he began to get gigs in London pubs and clubs for a tenner a night before the pair went on to form Squeeze.

The group racked up chart hits such as Cool for Cats and Up the Junction but Holland quit to pursue his own musical direction, cutting a solo album.

The switch to TV

The record was not a hit and Holland edged towards television to pay the rent. A born pianist he may have been but when it came to TV presentation, he was not a natural.

Fortunately, that wasn't a problem for Channel 4 in 1982 when it was scouting for fresh young talent to present its Friday night live music show The Tube. And besides, no matter how poor Holland's on-screen skills, he was always slicker than fellow presenter Paula Yates.

With fellow band members
At least until he slipped up on a live pre-show trailer, ordering viewers to "be there, or be ungroovy f*****s". He was slapped with a six-week ban but came out with more job offers than ever.

Since then Holland has just kept on doing what he does best - indulging his passion for music, be it in front of a TV camera or a live audience.

And yet despite his fame, he vigorously guards his private life. He is flippant in the face of personal interrogation, a master of the art of digression.

But when the questioning gets intimate, Holland uses all his powers of charm and grace to wriggle out unscathed. One tactic is to divert the conversation to neutral territory, such as his love of architecture or vintage toys.

It's not that he is shy of the press, but he maintains a neat balance of publicity and privacy that leaves us feeling a warm glow of affection for him
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30 Dec 99 |  UK
Sexy swingers await the Queen

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